While the economy has taken its toll on many parts of the plastics industry, suppliers to the medical and packaging sectors are seeing increased demand and even some shortages of key products.
Covestro AG's polycarbonate film plant in Deerfield, Mass., reported it saw a year's worth of orders in just two months. Spartech LLC has been running at full capacity, with lines used to make parts for medical face shields and intubation boxes running around-the-clock. Packaging giant Silgan Holdings Inc. saw demand rise by at least 5 percent for its plastics closures and containers.
"There have been some imbalances, with some markets impacted more than others," said Bret Bement, North American petrochemicals supply chain director with BASF, during an April 16 webinar hosted by Petrochemicals Update and the Reuters news service. "Automotive is down, but other markets like [information technology] and health care are relatively strong."
He added that because BASF has many integrated facilities making numerous products, "some materials have been sold, others are still trying to find homes."
Paul Jepson, specialties logistics operations director for Saudi Basic Industries Corp., agreed that the COVID-19 market is two-sided.
"Auto customers are closed, but health care with disaster-related orders is seeing demand as good as ever," he said.
For Covestro, plants including Deerfield and Newark, Ohio, are seeing a surge.
"Some of these medical compounds are standard products for us, but we've seen changes in order sizes and timing," Rich Rogers, plant manager at Covestro's compounding plant in Newark, said in an April 22 interview. "We're getting a lot of rush orders for larger amounts than usual."
The Newark plant is working to supply polycarbonate-based compounds used in medical products ranging from drug delivery devices to oxygen concentrators and insulin pens.
The plant also has been challenged by some customers making medical products for the first time.
Deerfield is running 24 hours to make the film, which provides a flexible protective barrier against respiratory spray and droplets. Officials said that Covestro "is tapping its global presence" to meet increased orders for the shields.
Covestro's Newark plant recently was able to complete a color match and begin producing material for a ventilator part in 48 hours. "We pride ourselves on our color capability," Rogers said.
The plant, which employs 150 Covestro workers and 50 contractors, also hasn't been at full staffing during the crisis.
"We've never been more than 10 percent down, but some people have been missing for health conditions if they're at risk," Rogers explained.
Covestro also made efforts to show employees that working in the plant was safe by using touchless equipment and temperature screenings. "We made sure to let them know what our mission is and where our products are going," Rogers said.